Changing the face of Richmond: who is left behind as the city’s popularity increases

RICHMAND, Virginia (WRIC) – Richmond’s face has changed, become much whiter in the last 20 years, while the number of African Americans has dropped significantly.

All you need to do is take a trip to the Richmond community in Manchester to see how the city is experiencing growth: apartment buildings are growing and businesses are opening up in areas that have been almost abandoned.

“So what we see is the exact opposite of what happened in the 20th century,” said Dr. Julian Heiter, an associate professor in the Department of Leadership Research at the University of Richmond.

“Between the 1940s and the 1970s, there was a mass exodus from cities,” Hayter said. “The relocation of Americans, almost exclusively white Americans, to the American suburbs was the largest migration of people in history.”

This left behind urban communities with predominantly African-Americans who squandered with small investments and rising crime.

“In the late 20th century, there was a fear of crime in the city center in the United States,” Hayter said.

But now people are not only returning to the city, they are buying houses there.

“We see that the neighborhood was once undesirable and so depreciated during the 20th century,” Hayter said. “But now we see that economic incentives to return to cities like Richmond have finally overshadowed the fear.”

Tax breaks combined with a desire to improve commuting have forced people to return to Richmond to live, many of them white. U.S. Census data indicates that at the time white population in Richmond has grown from nearly 76,000 to 103,000 or about 31% over the past 20 years, black population has fallen from 113,000 to 106,000 – a decrease of 6.4% – over the same period.

Overall population growth and corresponding demand for housing are raising house prices and property taxes, making city life unbearable for some existing and potential residents, many of whom are African Americans.

“On the one hand, we encouraged people to return to these areas through government policy, but then did very little to protect people who had been there for decades from resettlement as a result of internal migration,” Hayter said.

“We are just approaching a place where all my colleagues are talking about affordable housing,” said Ellen Robertson, a member of the Richmond City Council. She has lived in the Highland Park area for many years. While she questions the accuracy of the census as a whole, she does not question the shift.

“I can walk down the street from my home, and the change in African-American families who used to live here, compared to those who live here now, is huge,” Robertson said. “So it’s not just about increasing the white population.”

She emphasizes that this is primarily a question of race, not economic, which disproportionately affects those who earn $ 50,000 a year or less.

“It’s hard for us to create incentives to support their stay in Richmond, but we can give tax breaks to the president of the Federal Reserve,” Robertson said. “So far we have not had the political money in the budget to create affordable housing that would lead to the diversity of people living in the city of Richmond.”

“If we were in Boston, we could talk about poor white communities,” Hayter said. “If we were in Los Angeles, we would be talking about Latin American communities. It so happened that Richmond’s story, in many ways because of his inseparable connection to slavery, is linked to African Americans. “

Some people have been displaced by practices that have allowed developers to demolish public housing complexes, such as the Blackwell division, and build new homes that former residents could not afford.

“Thank God it’s not happening anymore,” Robertson said.

But there have been other growth challenges over the past two decades as areas such as Manchester, Carver, Highland Park and Scotts Addition have undergone transformations. The changes affected not only residents but also businesses.

Joy Brewer and her husband AJ own Brewer’s Café in Manchester. They both grew up in the southern city of Richmond and have personal ties to the city. She wonders what long-term impact growth will have.

“The fear is that the people who come there are not part of the community because they have no roots here,” Brewer said. “Do they care so much? You know, they don’t care that they will displace some residents, potentially or other businesses? ”

While diversity is a plus, the question remains: is there justice in this diversity? The city of Richmond and other communities across the country will have to figure this out.

“There are more people living in cities now, we are closer to each other than ever in human history,” Hayter said. “If we don’t come to terms with how we live with each other in these spaces, it will be a rocky path forward.”

Hayter adds that cities across the country are experiencing some of the deepest demographic shifts in recent history, and that it’s important to understand urban American history and what has helped us achieve that. He also says that those who move to the inner city should not only strive to enjoy the incentives, but also become part of the community and give back.

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